On a bright Wednesday afternoon, deep in Kyanaisoke Sub-county, Kagadi District, Nyandera has decided to invest her hard-earned money in something valuable. A mother of four and wife to Bigabwa, she has decided to purchase a solar-powered lighting system for her home.
“I am happy and now my sons will be able to revise their books. I can also finally charge my phone from home,” she says. This is an example of how women are delving into renewable energy technologies in the region in a bid to improve the quality of their lives.
The role of women in the energy value chains cannot be under looked and it is evident that it improves overall access. How women access renewable energy is important because it helps improve livelihoods and spur businesses. But there is one pertinent question that comes to our minds: whether access to renewable energy has a serious gender bias. Is Nyandera more likely to use solar compared to Bigabwa or other men in the village? Or does it matter how much either of them spends on a solar unit or an improved cook stove?
Research by Kitara Civil Society Organisation Network between 2018 and 2019 in the Mid-Albertine rift provided evidence that women spend more than men to access renewable energy. It indicated that men were more likely to own solar units or other renewable technologies (60.4 per cent) compared to women (12.8 per cent).
Ironically, women were more likely to spend Shs26,000 more compared to men to access the same unit of renewable energy. This translates into an additional Shs26,000 paid by a woman, for instance, to access a solar unit that a man would acquire. This is a great challenge, given that the high cost (cash or otherwise) incurred by women to access renewable energy deters their movement up the energy ladder and, therefore, denies them an opportunity to engage in other productive activities that would otherwise spur development and attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals and other local commitments.
There are prospects of mainstreaming gender and providing opportunities for various gendered groups.
Although Uganda has made strides in the development of the renewable energy sector, it is apparent that gender is not effectively mainstreamed within our energy policies, legislation, and programmes. There is lack of clear gender strategies for addressing the gender concerns within the country’s ministries, departments and agencies. For instance, the ministry of Energy does not have a gender mainstreaming strategy for the sector (RECSO Network, 2019).
To address these bottlenecks, there is need for, among others, to:
a) Deliberately focus on gender issues leading to a gender mainstreaming strategy in the renewable energy sector. Specifically, the ongoing energy policy review process ought to have a clear strategy of mainstreaming gender issues in the sector, with clear timelines and targets that will periodically be reviewed.
b) There is need for renewable energy programmes and projects to target women specifically in the financing sector. Incentive packages need to be developed that target women to spur improved adoption and access to the renewable energy technologies.
c) The private sector players need to be targeted to have gender specific and responsive goods that will be adopted by the women. The pricing models need to be considerate of women needs and abilities.
Mr Phillip Kihumuro is a researcher at Ecosystem Associates (ECOSAS)